Tour 17 – Amilla Fushi: Revisiting the Reinvented

Tour 17 - Amilla - bikes
Amilla makes custom license plates for its guests’ bicycles

Jason and Victoria Kruse have simply re-invented Amilla transforming it into a distinctive property of unpretentious luxury and style. “Humble chic” was the best way I could describe it. Amilla is the place to go for people who appreciate quality and refinement without fussy ostentation and OTT extravagance.

I have a fairly strong policy to not revisit resorts as I am so keen to see as many in the Maldives as I can. But there is one management team for whom I will break that rule – Jason and Victoria Kruse. Partly out of gratitude as they were a catalyst to me investing deeper into the website. When I visited their resort, Kurumba, in 2009 and they raved about my recently launched Maldives Complete, it inspired me to put more into the project.. Partly because I admire what they do to a property filling it with lots of distinctive features that are the types of things that I love to write about. But mostly, because over the years we have developed a deep friendship with them sharing thoughts and ideas about attracting guests to the Maldives and appreciating this paradise.

So when Lori and I happened upon an opportunity to escape dreary wintry England and Jason insisted that I had to include his new baby, Amilla (formerly known as “Amilla Fushi”), we couldn’t resist. We were hesitant at first because, frankly, the original Amilla Fushi property left us a little underwhelmed. When we first visited, it was a striking property with its stylish modern design, but the expectations set were even higher with its $2000+ per night price tag. One simple point of comparison was that it was priced at the super luxury high end, and yet after our visit I only identified 16 “Best Of the Maldives” pieces to write about (by comparison, most of the top flight properties like Soneva Fushi, Velaa and One & Only Reethi Rah boast over 50).

The very first thing Jason did was take the property out of the super-premium bracket by slashing the rack rates by more than half. Just taking this step was a game changer. Now, this resort moved from being a lackluster super-luxury property to being a table topping luxury one. Price is a hugely important variable. Maldives holidays stretch mostly peoples’ budgets and you want to pack in as much as delight as you can for such an outlay.

Shifting Amilla’s positioning was only the first step to a true re-invention of its ethos and vibe. Of course, Jason and Victoria, are bringing loads of innovations big and small (stay tuned for a lots of fun posts). Most importantly, they are throwing themselves into the island. Jason and Victoria are part of a select group of Maldives devotees (with whom I can deeply empathize) with a true passion for this spot on the planet. They are not managers doing their stint for a couple year contract and then jetting off to their next posting. Rather, they have fallen in love with the destination and are committed for the long haul (like Patrick now at SAii Lagoon, Sonu and Eva at Soneva, or Giovanna at Nika). The island is already bubbling with their spirit. It is more than a job for them and really their whole life.

COVID PROTOCOL – Amilla boasts one of the most intense COVID prevention protocols in the Maldives. They have invested in their own testing capability so they can test each and every guest on arrival and provide results overnight (I only know of Soneva that also has this capacity and regime). All guests are required to quarantine in their room until PRC results arrive. This way they catch anyone who might have possibly picked up the virus from the time they took their Fit-to-Fly test 96 hours before departure.

Tour 17 - Amilla - Victoria
Victoria and Lori catching up

Tour 17: Flying the COVID-Free Skies to Paradise

Perhaps the biggest hurdle to escaping to paradise is getting there. With the “Tier 4” lockdown announced in the UK, that will scupper possibilities for many. But for those living in areas still able to do international travel, the flying is the first, and perhaps most stressful aspect of getting there is the flying. And our trip was no exception as we grappled with impediments from 3 major carriers:

  • QATAR AIRWAYS – I purchased my ticket through British Airways where I had a bunch of “vouchers” accrued from COVID cancelled trips. BA did not have any flights available, but they did present “One World Partner” options for me to use including some flights from Qatar Airways which worked well enough. What they don’t tell you (and it took hours for me to figure out) is that you cannot purchase extra legroom seats on partner flights. A big concern for me because I am so tall. BA said contact Qatar because Qatar controls seat allocation, and Qatar told me to call BA because BA issued and controls the ticket. As I have experienced in the past, these “partnerships” like “One World” are more gimmicks and be aware that if you get drawn into them, you are likely to face huge complexities in your travel. As if COVID isn’t introducing enough complications at the moment. Also, their “Privilege Club” has probably the worst customer service of any airline I have ever dealt with. I spent 6 weeks and countless communications to get a typo fixed in my profile (which is critical because if your booking name doesn’t match your passport name exactly, they can prevent you from boarding).
  • EMIRATES – I give Emirates credit for a great booking experience including and easy refund when the UK Lockdown II required us to cancel our first trip booked. The biggest problem is that when we tried to re-booked we learned that the required stop-over in Dubai violated the “travel corridor” requirements and meant we would have to quarantine in the UK on return. That provision has since been modified to allow certain stop-overs, but at the time we didn’t want to face the possibility of paying for two weeks of freedom in paradise with a fortnight of sequestration (little did we know).
  • BRITSH AIRWAYS – BA turned out to be really the only option not wanting to quarantine over Christmas And yet, shortly after booking our flights, Sir Lankan offered direct flights and Qatar/Emirates got an exemption from the stopover constraint. The prices were better than usual for this time of year, but not the super discounts of November. The booking was smooth as well as a steady stream of travel advice from BA to help preparations.

Off we go. Yes, the trip there was more complicated, but in fairness matters were no worse than travelling to the Maldives a decade ago. Back before online check-in, airport kiosks, efficient boarding, rich shopping options and in-flight amenities. I know all of us living through 2020 dream of turning back the clock, but this might have gone too far back. In fairness, aside from a few temperature checks and squirts of hand sanitizer, the primary COVID imposition was the PCR test required for the Maldives (and many other destinations)

No online check-in as they had to check PCR certificates and the Maldives QR code (you get when you complete your Maldivian arrival Travel Health Authorisation). So for the first time in years, we arrived at Terminal 5 confronted by snaking queues as agents did check-in the “old fashioned way” (boarding passes, baggage check and passport port check all done by the far-too-few overworked agents at the desks). The agents were especially exasperated by so many people trying to travel and not really having a clue as to the requirements (One family of about 8 took 45 minutes to check-in, if they succeeded. We know because we were in the queue for 90 minutes and watching this one hapless family occupy one of the precious few gate agents was one of our bits of entertainment to pass the time).

The flight itself was very well managed with lots of safety protocols. Chief among them were mandatory mask wearing at all time (except for when you were “actively eating”, ie. take a bite and put the mask back on to chew). Frankly, in the spectrum of possible airplane discomforts, this added one was pretty trivial.

We arrived to Male airport facing arrival queues also not seen for a decade since the agents were coping with the other side of PCR tests, health declaration paperwork and a generous helping of tourist confusion. Our flight had been delayed a few hours and the long lines meant that our PCR test was literally about to “expire” (ie. be beyond the 96 hour requirement). We made it through with 10 minutes to spare, but in fairness, the authorities I approached about the issue seemed pretty understanding about the delays and I don’t think they would have turned us away because we got to the desk a bit after the official expiry.

One final moan on my soapbox. My wife Lori works in an NHS-supported care facility and as such get COVID tested every week as a matter of SOP. But the results that she gets back are not PCR certificates and simple electronic messages saying “test negative”. It would seem to me that in addition to rounds of applause, a simple and pretty cost-free gesture that would save NHS staff some money would be to adapt the weekly COVID test results to be PCR “Fit to Fly” ready. Then, NHS staff wouldn’t have to pay considerable amounts for extra tests (on top of the many they already take) if they want a well-earned break.

   

Best of the Maldives: Gingerbread Houses – SAii Lagoon

SAii Lagoon - gingerbread 2

“The children were nestled all snug in their beds, While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads…”

Guests at SAii Lagoon didn’t have to wait until Christmas Eve for such sweet dreams as their seasonal festivities started with the arrival of two gingerbread houses as big and colourful as the resort itself.

Also, in the run up to the holiday, the kids club also a complimentary Santa’s workshop in making gingerbread houses where the guests’ little elves could make their own tasty villa confections.

To Maldives lovers everywhere, “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!”

SAii Lagoon - gingerbread 1

5 Reasons to Go to the Maldives Now

Imuga

When the pandemic first hit and the lockdowns were imposed, we made an emphatic decision to simply not travel in the year 2020. We were seasoned enough travellers (and savvy enough health professionals both working in the medical arena) that we knew it would be many months before the world had a grip on this grippe. We knew that there would be no switch flipped that turned matters from terrible to fine. Rather, the process would be a long and drawn-out chipping away at the pandemic making life more safe and allowing more activity to go on bit by bit.

We had decided that it would simply be too risky and stressful to travel during the year with all the variables and all the volatility of the situation, not to mention the first and foremost risk, which is contracting the virus itself. We would not do anything that wasn’t deemed an acceptable risk, as per our medical training. But within the first 6 months, the world pretty much figured out how to contain the spread (the biggest problem is getting people to behave in a manner which contained the spread) so some possibilities for travel were emerging.

Travel is already a highly regulated environment for safety (just think of the boarding screening process), so the industry is pretty well structured to adopt safety measures. After an accident or terror threat, the aviation industry makes changes pretty effectively and pretty quickly. It has to. So, we felt that they would probably institute protocols that would mitigate most of the risk fairly well.

What we didn’t trust was the governments. A government springing a change in rules at the last minute throwing our trip up in the air. And as anticipated, that is exactly what happened. We bit the bullet and booked a trip to the Maldives for mid-November only to have the entire thing upended by England Lockdown II. And not just official pronouncements being sprung on us, but also lower-level functionaries whose job it was to implement them not reading or confusing the fine print in the latest directive and in so doing holding us up at some point for some confusion over paperwork or something.

Still, we persevered got ourselves to our beloved Maldives this week.  Several days in the trip has been magical. Not perfect by any means. But nonetheless magical.

Here are the reasons to consider taking the plunge and escaping to paradise:

  1. Great Deals – The deals are the catalyst. In November, we started reading about some of the deals on offer, and we couldn’t help but salivate. Air fares and resort prices were both 30-50% off. With our 8 months of cabin fever, we couldn’t resist the temptation.
  2. Flexible Terms – It used to be that to get good prices, you had to commit sizeable sums of non-refundable deposits. Even a minor change in plans would incur big service charges. COVID has changed most of that. Airlines and hotels are now very flexible in their terms so risks of losing your payment are much lower. That said, do check the terms of your travel and if your airline or hotel is not providing flexibility, then look elsewhere. As it happened, this consideration hit us in our planning. We had planned for our trip in November…but then the UK lockdown hit scuppered it. But we were readily refunded all of our booking charges or were able to move them to our revised trip in December.
  3. Aggro in Perspective – Yes, COVID protocols have added extra aggro to the whole process of travelling. The biggest being the PCR “Fit to Fly” certificates, but smaller inconveniences like wearing a mask through the airport and throughout the flight, health declaration forms, etc. While these will seem onerous to the modern casual traveller, they are not really any harder than visas and a vaccination required for typical adventure travel even a few years ago (I remember that I had to hire a consultant to help me get a Russian tourist visa a few decades ago because the process was so convoluted). COVID has just made all travel into “adventure” travel in terms of logistics. Yes, the airport queues are longer dealing with all the protocols and paperwork, but this isn’t entirely new to the world of travel. And people are regularly pointing remote thermometers at you. A bit of work, but not unbearable.
  4. COVID Safety – Tourism is the lifeblood of the Maldives so it is no surprise that they have instituted some of the most stringent COVID precautions in the world. As a result, the incidence of COVID in the Maldives is one of the lowest in the world, earning the Maldives a travel corridor with a number of countries, including the UK (which means that you don’t have to quarantine on return).
  5. Post-Lockdown Paradise – The Maldives feels like the antithesis of lockdown. Sitting on a beach taking in an infinite horizon is the perfect antidote to months of staring at the same four walls.

Haven’t Seen Yet #17 – Sharknado Edition

Whale Shark cake

Looking for that special something to buy your favourite resort for Christmas. Well, here is the 17th (!) edition of “Things I Haven’t Seen Yet in the Maldives” (after 20+ years of visiting and researching them). We are hoping to discover some “haven’t seens” (as well as a Santa sack of other previously unsung treats with a December bolt to the paradise in 2sleeps!…stay tuned).

  1. Whale Shark Cake – Gorgeous! [ABOVE]
        
  2. Shark Hoodie – For my house reef home boys.
    Shark hoodie
          
  3. Whale Shark Swim Suits – Keia’s “Maldivas Collection” includes a variety of whale shark inspired designs as well as other designs with coral and water patterns.
    Whale shark swimsuit
          
  4. Paul & Shark Wear – For something a bit more sophisticated, Paul & Shark brand not only makes resort wer, but adorns it with their trademark shark silhouette logo.
    Paul and Shark clothing
        
  5. Knitted Whale Shark – No longer in the shop but on Instagram.
    Knitted whale shark
        
  6. Shark Purse – What better guard to your valuables?
    Shark purse    
        
  7. Shark Pencil Case – Or your pencils?
    Whale shark pencil case    
        
  8. Baby Shark Snorkel Mask – Baby Shark, Do do do do do do…
    Baby shark snorkel mask    
        
  9. Whale Shark Bracelet – I’ve seen plenty of whale shark pendants and earrings, but this is a bit more distinctive.
    Whale shark bracelt    
        

Write Every Day of Your Life

writing every day

  • Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens.”— Ray Bradbury

A dozen years of researching and writing about the Maldives here and still the second most common question I get is “Why do you do it?” I make no money (no ads, no sponsorship, no selling). In fact, the whole venture costs me more than several trips to the Maldives for fun with the hosting and other expenses of keeping the site maintained. It is an expensive hobby. But one that comes with more dividends than just digital escapism (from the often dank climes of the British Isles) and fan boy entertainment. I especially appreciate the comment by Bradbury of “see what happens” as the whole Maldives Complete odyssey has been packed with serendipity and the adventure of otherwise unlikely opportunities and interactions arising. And finally, The whole experience of exploring, delving and processing is one which exercises my curiosity, creativity and critical thinking:

  • We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.” – E. O. Wilson

     

12th Maldives Complete-ly by the Numbers

Completely by the Numbers 12

What a year! (not sure which emoji to put with that)

Count our blessings if we are healthy. Unfortunately, the Maldives have taken an especially hard blow on top of the medical blow with their country so economically concentrated on tourism. Maldives Complete has reflected this downturn in many ways. For starters, we couldn’t do our annual research trip. That’s meant pretty flat numbers (relative to other years) in new material (eg. blog posts, photos, visits). Added resorts, room types, etc. were on hold as openings stalled. And, obviously, traffic has dropped significantly as fewer people are research holidays.

There does seem to be the light of dawn peering over the horizon. The world including the Maldives have gotten sophisticated in preventative protocols which can allow more of life to carry on while minimizing the spread of infection. Testing, sanitising, social distancing, face masking and a range of other techniques are getting the R0 factor down. The arrival so various approved vaccines should provide a major improvement in the pandemic around the world.

Already, I am seeing a noticeable uptick in the past few days (not least of which from the UK who has exited its Lockdown II). In fact, we have arranged a bit of an impromptu to trip to take advantage of some of the great deals out there and burn some of our outstanding holiday time (stay tuned this week…fingers crossed. And the site did hit a few social media milestones in 2020 crossing 2000 Facebook Followers and 1000 Twitter Followers.

Let’s hope 2021 brings a smooth (and safe!) return to enjoying paradise (and helping people to do so).

Advent-Sure Holiday

Baglioni Christmas pool

Happy Advent! And here is our fashionista Advent Calendar of yuletide cheer to take you on the final Christmas countdown of 24 sleeps…

  1. Karolina Kuik (Poland) – Olhuveli


        

  2. Masianiam (Russia)


        

  3. Anastasia Sibireva (Russia) – Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru


         

  4. Raimonda Gecaite (Denmark) – Thoddoo


         

  5. Theresa Vaupel (USA)


         

  6. Elena Pushistaia (Russia)


         

  7. Marinella Bezer (Romania) – Kurumba


          

  8. Nadin (Russia) – Cocoon


         

  9. Аnastasia Verbovaia (Russia) – Kuredhivaru


        

  10. Nastya Ferz (Russia) – Four Seasons Kuda Huraa


       

  11. Bad Teacher (Russia)


         

  12. Méryl Denis (France) – Park Hyatt Hadahaa


         

  13. Alvi Lalli (Ukraine) – Anantara Veli


       

  14. Ines Klara (Croatia) – Club Rannalhi


        

  15. Silvia Petrov (Moldova) – Paradise Island


       

  16. Leire (Spain) – Maalifushi


           

  17. Lily Black (Italy) – Thudufushi


       

  18. Sandra Lăsculescu (Romania) – Sun Siyam Irufushi

  19. Ana (Singapore) – Fihalhohi


           

  20. S. Teodosieva (Russia) – Nika


        

  21. Arina (Russia) – Sun Siyam Irufushi


              

  22. Alexandra Iuliana (Romania) – Paradise Island


           

  23. Katerina (Russia) – Dhigali


             

  24. Martina Bantik (Italy) – Bathala